Katrina damage 'massive'

Post-hurricane damage in Mississippi and Louisiana is massive and unprecedented, responders said, even before they could access some of the hardest hit places on Tuesday morning.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | August 30, 2005

"The first priority is to feed those that are hungry, (people) that have no food, and that have no place to cook."

—Major Dalton Cunningham, Salvation Army

Post-hurricane damage in Mississippi and Louisiana is massive and unprecedented, responders said, even before they could access some of the hardest hit places on Tuesday morning.

Search-and-rescue via helicopter and boat continued in many severely hit areas, and local officials began to come to terms with what could be a growing loss of life.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who described "enormous devastation" in his state, said the death toll could be as high as 80 people in Harrison County alone. That county includes Gulfport and Biloxi. Thirty people died at an apartment complex in Biloxi, according to reports from the Harrison County emergency operations center.

Flooding in Mississippi was devastating for at least six miles inland. Biloxi and other coastal communities were hit by a 25-foot storm surge.

Local officials said hundreds of people were still stranded on rooftops and in the upper levels of buildings in Louisiana as well, where more than 500 people were rescued on Monday. The drinking water supply has been cut.

Two new levee breaches sent water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing through the eastern part of New Orleans on Tuesday. This is in addition to a levee breach that flooded western New Orleans Monday. Local officials by Tuesday morning were estimating that 80 percent of the city was flooded, with some areas under 20 feet of water. Floodwater was continuing to creep up to much higher levels than it hit during the storm itself.

Louisiana officials would not offer a fatality estimate on Tuesday morning, saying only they believed there was loss of life.

Residents were being evacuated by boat in Alabama as well, reported Mel Brackman of Lutheran Disaster Response. Brackman said a 15-foot storm surge hit the Dauphin Island area in that state, with a 10-foot surge inundating Mobile. Brackman and other response leaders were working with local groups to distribute relief supplies there.

Faith-based relief groups were fanning out to try to get relief supplies to hurricane survivors. Response groups are going to need a large amount of supplies and cash donations, said Major Dalton Cunningham, commander for The Salvation Army division in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

"The size of this is massive," he said. "The needed resources are going to be more widespread."

Power was out to millions of people and it could be two months before it is restored, said power officials.

More than 1,600 Mississippi National Guardsmen were activated to help with the recovery. In Mississippi alone on Monday night, more than 100 people were rescued from their rooftops.

In addition to rural areas - where damage has yet to be tallied - Hurricane Katrina has hit multiple cities, he pointed out, and the types of response will need to be different.

With such a large response ahead of them, many relief groups were trying to focus on those most in need. "The first priority is to feed those that are hungry," said Cunningham, "(people) that have no food, and that have no place to cook."

Groups such as Operation Blessing and the Southern Baptists were also deployed to bring emergency supplies to storm survivors.

On Tuesday, leaders of faith-based disaster response groups were trying to outline plans for what will take place after the emergency phase - which will be long because of the huge size of the affected area.

After initial flood cleanup, faith-based groups plan to work ecumenically to develop local recovery organizations. Then, local community needs assessments will begin. At that point, those communities will be ready for volunteers who can help rebuild homes.

Church World Service reported its Disaster Response and Recovery Liaisons (DRRLs) are meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials and state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster via telephone conferences to identify material resource needs and other aid.

CWS and several other faith-based groups offer online guidelines for assembling relief supply kits to help hurricane survivors. DRRLs will travel to storm-affected areas, reported CWS, where they will focus on facilitating development of long-term recovery organizations to assist vulnerable populations that will face unmet needs.

CWS estimated as many as 20 recovery organizations may be organized and supported in Louisiana, Mississippi, northwest Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

On Tuesday, responders urged volunteers not to travel to disaster sites. It could be weeks before residents in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama will be allowed back to check on their homes, said FEMA Director Michael Brown.

When they do return, he said, they will face significant danger from structural damage to homes, diseases from animal carcasses and chemicals in homes. There are more than 52,000 people in shelters.

Brown described the damage as 'catastrophic.'

FEMA put into effect a massive emergency assistance program that included rushing baby formula, communications equipment, generators, water and ice into hard-hit areas. Many faith-based and community relief groups were in contact with FEMA and with state emergency management officials to assist in what will need to be a widespread relief effort.

President Bush has declared major disasters in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and south Florida.

As many response groups tried to take care of people, animals were also receiving care. The Humane Society of the United States has launched a large response on several fronts as well.

Forecasters said that as the storm moves north over the next few days, it may spawn tornadoes over the southeast and drop 8 inches of rain in the Tennessee and Ohio valleys.

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